spoiler alert: i linked this
Last week we introduced the defensive terminology for Don Brown's base defense and his 4-lineman sub packages. Quick clicky-popup diagrams of the 4-3 and 4-2-5 forms we covered:
This week I'd like to get into the 3-4 and 3-3-5 and 3-2-6 looks, or in Brown's terminology, the "50" formations.
SO WHAT DOES THE 3-4 LOOK LOOK LIKE?
The BC defense Brown brought over is a base 4-3 and 4-2-5 nickel, and they'll run a relatively small suite of plays from that base on most downs. But a lot of the fancy stuff—truly, most of the playbook—are out of what are usually called "30" and Brown refers to as the "50" fronts*, i.e. formations with three defensive linemen.
Here's the basic version, as taken directly from the 2013 Boston College playbook that James Light posted.
Technically, the "Tackle" (Hurst's position) has been replaced with a "Backer" (B). When you hear about a guy you thought was playing defensive end being called a "linebacker" (e.g. Kemp) it's possible he's playing the Backer position. If a dude's getting mentions as an "OLB" that's also a sign they're using him in that Backer/Sam role, where "Sam" means "Jake Ryan-esque."
That isn't anybody yet—I've been using Winovich as a placeholder—but the ideal here is clearly LaMarr Woodley: a 6'2/260-ish, athletic, stand-up, high-burst, space-tackling, strong-enough-to-stand-up-to-blocks attacker who can play rush end or cover some. That last is notable because it gives the 50 formations a suite of tactics that are generally absent from Brown's 70 formations: zone blitzes.
* [It's 50 and not 30 because look at the pic above and count the guys on the line. Now think back to that ol' Schembechler 5-2 "angle" defense. The more things change…
[After THE JUMP: bandits, canidae, diagrams that look like they're saying "Mike Gedeon" and "Will McCray", and blitzes. Oh lawdy do we got blitzes.]
NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Semifinal
Friday, March 25, 2016
Michigan 3, Notre Dame 2 (OT)
SELMAN GOAL, MICHIGAN
UM 1 ND 0 EV 10:31 Assists: Kile & Downing
Nieves wins the draw back to Downing. The wingers go in motion off the draw, with Kile going from right to left. This picks up the attention of the defender in front of the net, who takes a few steps with him. Meanwhile, Selman is skating through the faceoff circle, now left unoccupied thanks to the defender being drawn out toward Downing.
Two defenders are watching Kile as he receives the pass from Downing. Nieves has locked up the defender nearest Selman in the high slot; he did so immediately off the draw, and this is just where they ended up. Selman is blitheringly open, though ND goaltender Cal Petersen is square to Kile. Selman's shot catches him off guard, and he isn't able to move across and re-square before the puck's behind him.
[You already know the OT winner is after THE JUMP why have you not clicked yet]
3/25/2016 – Michigan 3, Notre Dame 2 (OT) – 25-7-5
3/26/2016 – Michigan 2, North Dakota 5 – 25-8-5, season over
When things went badly for Michigan this year, they tended to go bad in bunches. An inability to get a clean zone exit against certain hyperactive teams led to periods where Michigan got bombarded in its own end. Until the tournament these periods weren't even against good teams, since there weren't any on the schedule.
Half the time Michigan would fight back out of these holes, sometimes wielding puck-loaded tommy guns. (Literally: before the North Dakota game Michigan was 4-4-4 going into the third period down.) While the Notre Dame game wasn't quite as explosive as various Big Ten comebacks, they did rebound from a horrendous second period on Friday to get a grip on the game, one they would eventually use to win the game on a gorgeous behind-the-back pass from JT Compher.
That was something. Through two periods that game felt like nothing so much as the last time Notre Dame and Michigan played. That CCHA championship game was Michigan's last ditch attempt to salvage their tourney streak. Michigan grabbed an early lead in the kind of game that feels over as soon as the opposition ties it; Notre Dame tied it. There was a flicker there of something different. If only someone else, something else loomed.
There was no similar respite against North Dakota, and that's the problem.
Michigan and North Dakota are, or at least were, mirror images of each other. They recruit speed and skill directly after high school. They're piled high with NHL draft picks. They win a ton of games and get shot down in the tournament by bloody, goofy fate. But these last two meetings, spread out as they are over five years, demonstrate that the programs have diverged.
The first was the Tiny Jesus game. Michigan got outshot 2 to 1, gave up a blizzard of grade A scoring chances, and saw Shawn Hunwick stone every last one of them. I thought about that game on Saturday; North Dakota fans thought about that game on Saturday. Neither of us were happy to think about that game. Never has a team absolutely crushing their opponent without having anything to show for it on the scoreboard induced so much despair in their own fans as I imagine North Dakota did during that first period. At one point shots were 15-3, and all underthings were in danger of soiling.
That state of affairs took an irrationally long time to resolve itself, because single elimination playoff hockey is barely weighted plinko. You know this; you saw Michigan bomb Air Force's goalie over and over to no effect. The "hot goalie" thing has always seemed to be a bad way to think about the fact that hockey is pretty random.
Anyway, this is what I meant when I said the plinko was in our favor this year: Michigan wasn't in North Dakota's class except on the scoreboard. By the end of the game Michigan had once again been outshot 2 to 1. They gave up nearly 50 shots.
In the years bookended by these games, North Dakota has been slashed down in the Frozen Four twice and at this stage twice. Michigan saw entire four-year careers come and go without a tourney bid. Last year's team had the NHL rookie of the year, another guy who played 70 games right out of college, and Hobey finalist Zach Hyman and couldn't make the tourney. A team with Jacob Trouba on it missed the tourney. This team features a top line of future NHLers, one of whom was so rampant he will win the Hobey himself, and Racine's performance is the only thing disguising the fact they got run off the ice by North Dakota.
The talent is there; has always been there. The team is not on an elite level anymore.
I guess trying hard and going down fighting to a vastly superior team is preferable to some of the alternatives we saw over the past few years. That assertion was featured in some pushback on Twitter after I said "it's over" for Red, as if Michigan—Michigan!—was some try-hard program that's just happy to be here. I guess some people are just happy to be here, these days.
I was one of them for most of the year because I'd resigned myself to the fact that Michigan hockey isn't what it once was. This is indisputably true. Michigan once was a team with a 22-year tourney streak. Michigan used to go out like North Dakota, shaking their fists after dominating attack time and possession. That hasn't happened for a long time, and it's hard to envision a Red team that will do that in the future.
So, no, Michigan Daily, Red should not return next year. This season is not a return to form. It is an extension of same against a terrible schedule with a transcendent one-and-done. If there wasn't a ready-made candidate waiting in the wings there might be a case. But there is, and it's time for Mel Pearson to get the job he's waited 30 years for. Only Red can make that call; here's hoping he does.
A thought for Steve Racine. For Racine to finish this season with a save percentage of .914 is a danged miracle. Even so he has to endure goofs like Dave Starman deriding him as Michigan's weak point despite the fact that there can't be another goalie on a decent team in the country who endured the same shot quality he did. He made some big mistakes at times—two goals came from outside the blueline this year—but he is clearly Michigan's best goalie since Shawn Hunwick.
The statistics will not reflect this assertion. The scatter charts will.
The Big Ten excuse doesn't fly. Have seen a number of assertions that Michigan was ill-prepared to play North Dakota because they are good and the Big Ten is not. Such assertions fail to deal with the fact that Michigan got run over by Ohio State just three weeks ago, that Michigan didn't even win the not good league, that Michigan had control over 14 nonconference games and came up with BU and nobody else within spitting distance of an at-large bid.
Michigan's defense was a travesty most of the year; there was plenty of opportunity to fix it, but it didn't get fixed, just like it didn't get fixed any of the last four years.
Looking towards next year. Mike Spath says that Werenski, Downing, and Connor are almost certainly out the door and that Motte and Compher will get pushed by NHL teams to sign.
Those two guys will have to decide between getting a jump on their entry level contracts or returning and having the flexibility Zach Hyman did after his senior year. Hyman forced a trade to the Leafs and is now in the NHL permanently since Mike Babcock loves him. I've also heard that Compher is in Ross and has a very high profile degree he can complete next year, which is motivation to return.
If Michigan gets Motte and Compher back their lines might look something like this:
Pastujov, Sanchez, and Lockwood should be mid-round picks in the upcoming draft.
- De Jong-C. Martin
- L. Martin-Luce
Luce will be a mid-round pick.
That's not bad but it lacks an out-and-out star on defense unless Luke Martin, who's eligible for the 2017 draft, is the top-15-pick various mock draft sites are projecting him as.
If Compher and Motte depart things start getting grim. The only forwards not listed above are Evan Allen, Niko Porikos, and incoming PWO Lukas Samuelsson.
Breakout failures. It was uncanny how North Dakota destroyed Michigan by attacking the second pass. Most of the time a D's pass up to a forward saw that F under immediate pressure, whereupon he either threw it up the ice blindly or turned it over right there. It reminded me of watching the USMNT play Germany in the most recent world cup. North Dakota's forecheck is a high press that destroyed Michigan's offensive rhythm for most of the game. Their goals were more or less both on the power play; at 5x5 they did not score.
5x5: all of it. Michigan had one full power play in 130 minutes of hockey and drew one other penalty. This was a disaster for the nation's top power play. It resulted from a combination of excellent discipline from opponents, Michigan's inability to possess the puck, and refs lacking the courage to blow the whistle.
This was particularly acute in the Saturday game. An obvious interference call as Motte attempted to dump and chase in the first five minutes of the North Dakota game went unpunished, and after that it was free-for-all for both teams. By the third period Michigan defensemen could get their stick slashed out of their hands repeatedly with no reaction from the referee.
North Dakota was the superior team and deserved to win the game, but I'm frustrated that the game tilted even further to them because the refs decided that playoff hockey has different rules than regular hockey.
A fitting end. Michael Downing's slashing penalty with two and half minutes left was the final nail in the coffin, and a fitting way for him to go out. It was a two-handed chop down on a guy's arm in a situation where you'd rather just let the guy take his shot. I can't remember a more frustrating player other than maybe the freshman version of Jack Johnson, and Johnson was incredible as a sophomore.
Meanwhile Downing never shook the violence and bad decisions that plagued his game at Michigan. Notre Dame's opening goal on Friday was an odd-man rush he ceded with an awful decision. He then compounded it by falling down as the play entered the defensive zone.
I don't think Michigan will miss a beat without him. They went 3-0 during his various suspensions this year.
This post has been updated.
— Ricky Fontaine (@JMarickWoods) March 28, 2016
Michigan picked up its second commit of the morning when Florence (AL) safety J'Marick Woods announced his pledge in both video and note form on Twitter moments ago, a couple hours after MA RB AJ Dillon also committed to the Wolverines. Woods is a lanky safety listed between 6'2" and 6'4" on the recruiting sites; he's a four-star to Scout and a high three-star elsewhere.
Woods is the eighth commit in the 2017 class and the first at safety. After his commitment, Michigan is eighth in the 2017 composite class rankings. He plans to enroll early.
4*, #22 S,
|3*, #31 S||
3*, 79, #25 S,
3*, 88, #30 S,
3*, #26 S,
While Scout initially looks like an outlier as the only service to give Woods four stars, a closer look reveals all four services have him in a similar range: between 22-31 in the safety position rankings and on the 3/4-star borderline.
Woods is a tall safety, listed between 6'2" (Rivals) and 6'4" (Scout) with ESPN and 247 splitting the difference; his weight is listed between 187 and 205 pounds. Based on recent photos, he looks to be on the higher end of that height listing. Get used to him being described as "rangy."
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, and more.]
photo via 247
Groton (MA) Lawrence Academy running back AJ Dillon is the grandson of former Notre Dame All-American Tom Gatewood. He made multiple visits to South Bend throughout the recruiting process, including one for their Junior Day within a couple weeks of his planned decision. According to Steve Lorenz, even the Irish had an uphill battle heading into Dillon's most recent round of visits, and Michigan had work to do as well:
Going into his visit last week, I posted that it was going to be a good barometer visit for both Michigan and Dillon, as we had the Wolverines possibly running fourth on his list. Wisconsin was the favorite, he was a Notre Dame legacy prospect, and Florida State was his childhood favorite.
However, this visit turned into somewhat of a home-run for both parties, as Michigan was really impressed with Dillon and what he brought to the table from an on and off the field standpoint. The same could be said on the other side, as we were told that the strong visit to Ann Arbor caught Dillon and his camp off-guard. A good indicator of this is the quick commitment not only post-visit, but also when seeing Wisconsin and Notre Dame after he saw Michigan last week.
A few days after Dillon's ND visit, he made his way to Ann Arbor, and that was enough to convince him to blaze his own trail and attend Michigan:
"I got that feel of the atmosphere, the people, and everything was clicking," Dillon said. "It's just a place I could see myself in the next three to four years. I know I'll develop as a young man, as a student and a great football player at the University of Michigan."
Dillon is the seventh commit in the 2017 class—AL S J'Marick Woods has since become the eighth—and the second at running back, joining Georgia three-star Kurt Taylor.
|3*, #41 RB||4*, #16 RB||3*, NR RB||
4*, 91, #18 RB,
4*, #19 RB,
Dillon's rankings are split between solid four-star (Rivals, 247) and generic three-star (Scout, ESPN), which isn't unusual at this stage for a prospect from a state not known for producing a ton of football talent. Michigan fans have seen this before with Massachusetts prospects; Mo Hurst's rankings belied his ability that was apparent on tape, the same could be said for incoming freshman Sean McKeon, and after watching his film I'd say that's the case with Dillon.
There's far less discrepancy in the listings of his size. Dillon is listed at 6'0", 228 on the low end (Rivals) and 6'1", 235 on the high end (Scout); he's got the build of an every-down back and could even be a linebacker if Michigan so chooses—though they've told Dillon they want him as a RB.
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, and more.]
Before we start, folks who aren't going to be mentioned because they were on the sideline: Jehu Chesson, David Dawson, Ryan Glasgow, Mo Ways, Kingston Davis, Karan Higdon, Shelton Johnson.
Established guys we didn't see much of
I've seen a number of open practices by now and there's always a subclass of guys who aren't hurt but don't play much. Those guys are gentlemen who have established who they are and are too important to the team to expose them to extensive contact. They've made it, more or less. (These are never OL or DL.)
Most of the gentlemen who fell into this category are obvious: Jake Butt, Jabrill Peppers, Amara Darboh, Jourdan Lewis. There was one that indicates a supposedly contested position battle that might not be all that contested: De'Veon Smith saw very few live contact carries.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr Is A Tight End, And A Mutant
Some guys leap off the field the first time you see them in action, because… whoah. Devin Funchess did so at the first open practice these eyes ever laid eyes on, and that proved itself more or less correct over the course of his career. It was immediately apparent that Funchess was a rare combination of size and mobility.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr. is that plus 70 pounds. He's not Funchess. He's in fact the opposite of Funchess as far as blocky/catchy types go. But he has that same combination of size and mobility that makes you go "whoah" the first time you see him in action. I was typing out tweets about how his ability to relocate himself at his size was uncanny even before he did this:
— ap (@plurjuice) March 26, 2016
That's not a great angle; I had one. Devin Bush Jr had outstanding coverage underneath Wheatley, grabbing an arm and forcing the one-handed stab. Which Wheatley made, escaped/stiffarmed an understandably stumbling Bush, and then outran a bunch of LBs and safeties to the endzone. Even though large chunks of the crowd had left by that point it drew the largest cheer of the day, and deservedly.
That was not a one-off play. Wheatley had four or five other catches where he looked both unexpectedly mobile and a natural receiver. He also had an outstanding block in space against Chase Winovich that allowed John O'Korn to uncork a long post throw to Grant Perry for a touchdown.
There have been persistent rumors that Wheatley was destined for OL because of his size and some assertions to that effect in Rivals's Inside The Fort posts. This practice will definitively dispel those rumors. Wheatley isn't just a tight end, he is a potential gamebreaker. At 280.
[After THE JUMP: future mutants, QB battle, an extant run game, and some dude from Malaysia.]
News bullets and other items:
Reon Dawson and Jaron Dukes are medically retiring.
Freddy Canteen and Moe Ways recently had shoulder and foot surgery, respectively. Canteen’s status with the program is in the air; Ways should be back in 3-4 months.
Speight, O’Korn, and Morris are getting more snaps than the other QBs, but they’re all still making at least one “big mistake” every practice.
Devin Bush Jr. had his best practice of the spring on Saturday.
Harbaugh responded to Gene Smith’s comments because he felt a shot was fired across Michigan’s bow and, after waiting many hours, thought he needed to do the same. Just never, ever tell him that he likes to get in twitter wars because it’s a form of competition.
Harbaugh said it doesn’t matter to him what time of day games are played; a night game or lack thereof doesn’t faze him.
What did you see out there from your group today, and what were you looking for specifically here today?
“Uh, you know, good, competitive football fight. Getting better: in a lot of areas we are and in a lot of other areas not bad and other and all areas we need to keep improving, so…the guys are grindin’.”
Did your quarterback rotation go about how you wanted, and what did you see out of those guys?
“Uh…you know, there’s—like I told them, there’s, you know…we’re looking for a quarterback to move the team and not make the big mistake. They’re all in the mode of a big mistake a day, so we’re not—we’re just gonna keep plugging away and keep getting better, keep giving them things they can improve on, things they can take and use. Looking forward to the game setting. Maybe that’ll be another good test, but they’re getting a lot of tests right now. Strides are being made, but we’ve still got a long row to hoe.”
What does it do for your fans and for your team to come out here in this setting at Ford Field and open it up?
“I think it’s great in the way of sometimes spring practice can get monotonous. Some would even say boring. There’s no game that comes at the end of the week. It’s something different. Something to make it livelier, special—that’s what we get out of it. To have people in the stands, always felt that makes it better. Even the cameras, even the TV cameras—even if they didn’t have film in them, you know?”
They don’t anymore.
“Touché. So even if you had a camera that wasn’t actually recording anything guys would work hard. Guys would enjoy it more. People are watching, so that’s a good thing for us.”
With the quarterbacks, are you still repping them evenly or are you changing that up some?
“I’d say there’s Wilton [Speight], John [O’Korn], Shane [Morris] getting more. It’s not dead even anymore, no.”
Would it be Wilton, John, Shane in that order?
“I can’t even make an order right now. It’s to be determined still. It means a lot to all of them. You can tell in the way they play and just continuing to be able to play loose and play smart and continue to get repetitions. Continue to get looks and learn—that’s what they need to see right now. Looking forward to some game-like action. We’re going to make it game-like in the spring game. Everything’s going to be real tackle football live; the quarterbacks, everybody. There’ll be live bullets for them, so that’ll be a nice, good-size task for us. Looking forward to seeing how that plays out.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
Top 250 running back and consensus 4-star A.J. Dillon has committed to Michigan according to ESPN's Brendan Hall:
Lawrence Academy RB AJ Dillon has committed to Michigan, per head coach Paul Zukauskas
— Brendan C. Hall (@BHallESPN) March 28, 2016
Dillon is already 6'1/230 so there's speculation he may wind up at linebacker or fullback or something, but Michigan clearly recruited him as a De'Veon Smith-style bruiseback. Ty Wheatley was his main contact. There's also this from the profile Lorenz put up, along with an officially sanctioned reaction I've bolded:
“The coaches have told me they plan to use me as a running back,” he stated. “They think I’m an every down back there. When I told them I committed they were very excited. Coach Harbaugh let out an excited scream when I told them!”
So…go ahead and do that. More informative update later.
Dukes caught the only TD of last year's spring game against Dennis Norfleet
Jaron Dukes and Reon Dawson are 'medically retiring,' per Harbaugh. Mo Ways suffered a broken bone in his foot recently. Out a few months.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 26, 2016
Per harbaugh Freddy canteen had surgery on his shoulder. Waiting for results to see if he can continue with his career
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) March 26, 2016
The departures of Dukes and Dawson bring Michigan to or under 85 depending on the status of the as-yet-unsigned Dytarious Johnson; if Canteen does not make it back they'd be at 84 and able to issue a scholarship to Ryan Glasgow.
|WHERE||Homesure Lending Arena
March 26th, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan +180
North Dakota -220
Yes, I found a college hockey line.
North Dakota is a version of Michigan that plays in a much better league. They are 31-6-4 on the year, 19-4-1 in NCHC play, and have generally bombed opponents. Their top line features three guys who are all at least +38. Brock Boeser, Drake Caggiula, and Nick Schmaltz are their version of CCM, and while they aren't quite as prolific offensively they probably would have been if they got to play Michigan's schedule. Boeser is their Connor. The prolific freshman had 26-28-54 this year.
Here's a slight difference: North Dakota is really good at defense. So they're a version of Michigan that doesn't make you want to stab stabby stab stab.
North Dakota split against Wisconsin, somehow, and swept MSU 3-1 and 4-1.
Boeser is also a first round pick of a Canadian NHL club
North Dakota is 7th in scoring at 3.6 goals per game. The aforementioned "CBS" line drives much of the play; there's a solid second line and then you get a number of guys who have lines like 6-4-10 and 9-6-15—scrappers. There's a huge dropoff in +/- after the first line. If Michigan had a line that could be described as a "checking" line this would be a clear situation in which they should be deployed, but Bryan Rust ain't walking through that door.
The scoring down the roster gets even a little shallower when you consider that a guy like Luke Johnson (10-10-20) has half of his goals on the power play and is even on the season. This is not a team that should overwhelm Michigan's bottom six.
Do not sleep on the North Dakota defensemen. The impression I gathered from yesterdays game is they are not wilting flowers who pick up second assists by accident. They are supremely confident on the puck, willing to take major chances in their own defensive zone to break forechecking pressure and maintain possession. And they achieve this a shocking percentage of the time. The ice tilted towards Northeastern's goal in large part because of the D corps's ability to handle the puck. They have five different D with at least 15 points and get a bunch of goals out of the defense corps. Junior Troy Stecher leads the way with 8-19-27. He's not Werenski, but all of their guys are big and skilled.
The CBS line is very capable of the tic-tac-toe goals we've seen Michigan score big chunks of the year. Preventing the kind of odd man rushes that Notre Dame deployed to score their first goal yesterday is a major key. Can Michigan accomplish that? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Again with the defensemen: North Dakota is #3 in scoring defense at just 1.85 goals per game. They split time between Matt Hrynkiw and Cam Johnson in goal, settling on Johnson midseason. That decision has paid off; Johnson's .934 save percentage is 7th nationally.
Part of that is North Dakota's ability to prevent quality scoring chances; part of the GAA is the fact that North Dakota is massively outshooting opponents. Their even-strength Corsi of 56% is fourth nationally. (Michigan's at 52%, FWIW.) Opponents are averaging just under 25 shots a game. North Dakota plays most of their games in the attacking end.
North Dakota's surprisingly meh on the power play, just 21st of 60 teams. Their penalty kill, however, is very good—6th and that's before you factor in their 8 short-handed goals. (Those are spread relatively evenly over the roster, FWIW.)
Let's try this again: Michigan's rampant power play is #1 nationally at 32%, having scored on an amazing 17 of 29 opportunities over their last
six seven games. Notre Dame, of course, did not take one single penalty during Friday's game. If Michigan wants to get chippy early, that might not be the worst idea.
A FEELING OTHER THAN TERROR?
Nope. North Dakota was extremely impressive in a 6-2 dismantling of previously red-hot Northeastern yesterday. That Northeastern team just swept Notre Dame, who Michigan struggled against for two solid periods before getting a grip on the game in the third. That line above is 2:1 in favor of North Dakota, and that feels about right.
The nature of the Northeastern win allowed the Fightin' Blanks to rotate four lines for most of the game. Meanwhile Michigan had to ditch the fourth line and heavily double-shift CCM; they also played a (mercifully brief) overtime period. UND will be fresher. That could be a pivotal difference.
This game is likely to go one of two ways: a repeat of the Northeastern game yesterday as Michigan finds out that playing a 19-4-1 NCHC team is not like playing Penn State, at all, or a relatively even battle where Michigan's speed and skill is enough to disrupt the puck-moving skills of the North Dakota defensemen. Or they could play both of those in one game, as they did yesterday.
The former is either a sad blowout or a rear-guard action like the one led by Tiny Jesus in 2011. The latter is likely to come down to which top line can put together more mindblowing goals, and whether Michigan's defense corps gives away a goal or two by doing something awful.
Either way North Dakota is an obvious favorite. But, hey, plinko is in our favor this time, especially if there are a bunch of penalties.